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“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” -James 5:13-15
We are commanded to pray. Prayer is the way we speak with God. We pour out our hearts with our desires and our sorrows, our pain and our joy. We plead for a miracle. We offer words of thanksgiving and praise. We cry when we can't form words. We sing when our joy is overwhelming.
We speak words into the air, and they hang there, suspended above us, floating toward heaven. I know He hears and listens to every word I speak, every word I think. I don't doubt that. My God is omniscient and omnipresent, and although my finite mind can barely concentrate on one conversation at a time, He is not limited by human frailties.
The part of the equation that I don't fully understand is exactly how the Lord answers my prayers. By praying, am I changing my circumstances or my attitude?
If I pray for patience, will I miraculously wake up the next morning full of grace and understanding? Or will I be given the circumstances to practice tempering my easily ignited short fuse of annoyance? If I pray for my future husband, will the next boy who comes walking into my life be him? Or will the Lord ease my heart pangs by reminding me of His banner of love over me? (Song of Solomon 2:4)
I would venture to say the Lord works in both ways but is certainly not limited to the pragmatic scenarios our minds can conjure up.
A few years ago, the leader of the women's Bible study group that I had been a regular member of for two years decided it was her time to step down. She opened up the leadership position to our whole group, asking each of us to prayerfully consider taking over her role. I immediately waved the idea away. Me? A leader? Are you kidding? I preferred the role of “group participant” thankyouverymuch. I didn't feel the slightest bit guilty about dismissing the idea. God understood. After all, He's the one who made me more of a “behind the scenes” kind of person. He not only understood, I imagined He was applauding me for knowing who I was and being strong enough in my identity as the girl who liked to bring baked goods to her small group but would never dare think of leading such a group.
Then something weird happened. I started mulling the idea over. I started talking about it with girlfriends. I started, here we go, praying about it. What was happening? In a matter of a few weeks, the idea turned from ludicrous and insane to something I was strongly considering. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this change of heart had nothing to do with me and everything to do with God softening my attitude. I lead the group for a year and grew immensely in the way that I trusted God for wisdom. I prayed for the courage to lead them confidently. I prayed for humbleness in the way that I spoke and taught.
This is just one example of how God has worked in my life based on the prayers I offered up to Him. In this instance, He changed my heart, my attitude, my stubbornness. He brought me to a place where I realized that it wasn't about my agenda but His.
Still, at other times, He has changed my circumstances. I have prayed for new friends to combat my loneliness. He flooded my life with beautiful women and men. After losing a full-time job due to my place of work closing, I prayed for employment and aced my next interview. I have prayed for the healing of friends and family members and test results have come back negative.
The way that I have come to understand the great and beautiful mystery of prayer is this: our Father wants to hear our voices calling out to Him. He wants us to release our control over situations and give them to Him. I'm not sure why certain prayers are answered the way they are. I couldn't even begin to figure out the reasons why God chooses to work in the ways that He does.
I'm just thankful that He does hear us and does answer us.
Of course, this statement brings up another perplexing aspect of prayer. The unanswered prayer. We all know how it feels to pray for something and never see it fulfilled. I bow my head in concentrated prayer and ask God to reach His healing hands around a friend. I pray for the salvation of a loved one. I pray for success in my creative ventures. I pray for adventure or a change of pace in my day-to-day life. But, as far as I see it, my circumstances remain in the same.
While my ways are not God's ways, I do have a theory about unanswered prayer. I believe it teaches us consistency. In a sense, prayer is one of the few things that we don't have complete control over. It makes us impatient when we've prayed for something more than once, and we don't see it fulfilled. Everything else about our society is controlled, fast, predictable. We can connect to the internet in a second, we reduce thoughtful conversations into shorthand texts, our dinner is handed to us in a paper bag through a drive-through window. Why does prayer not work the same way? Fast, instant, neatly packaged, just the way we ordered it.
However, if prayer always worked exactly the way that we wanted it to, what would we learn? How would we build trust with our Father who art in heaven? I believe the unanswered prayer teaches us to be diligent in our requests to God, to continue our reverent posture before His throne.
I recently heard a sermon that has since resonated with me. The pastor urged us remember that God has, yes, answered prayers and performed miracles for us in the past. His warning was not to focus on how these miracles were performed, simply remember that God did them. When we try to figure God out and plan His steps for Him, we put Him in a box- a very small box- since, compared to the Lord, our minds are miniscule.
I am thankful my prayers are heard, considered, and answered by the One who knows my past, my present, and my future. He is the one who knows me better than myself and knows what I need when I need it. I may not be able to figure out His every move, but, well, isn't that the point?
"My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.-Isaiah 55:8
Lacey Ostoj is a twenty-something living in Durham, NC. She loves hanging out at coffee shops, crafting up a storm, and trying new baking recipes. She loves Jesus and enjoys encouraging others through her words. You can find her at humming-right-along.blogspot.com, where she documents daily life.